Inexpensive Assistant Technology
Affordable assistant software
With the development of computer technology hospital staff’s monotonous work with paralyzed patients is increasingly being replaced by specially developed programs. These programs perform tasks completely identical to those of an assistant - alternately showing the patient on the computer screen alphabet letters from which by blinking or other eye movements he selects the right one , thus composing words and sentences. Such programs are designed to work with different types of cameras and are often part of full-fledged software hardware systems, consisting of eye tracking devices and applications processing the captured image of the patient's eye and the text or graphic matrix.
Through calculating the direction of the paralyzed patient’s gaze, the program determines the area of the screen he looks at, and selects the desired schematic image - letter or icon and selects it when he closes his eyes for a certain time. Thus, through their eye movements the users can type texts, manage a set of simple applications or play simple games. More sophisticated systems allow using custom applications to manage devices connected to the system - for example, turning the air conditioning on or off, selecting TV channels and even running PC applications. Needless to say, that these advanced systems have many different settings and are very expensive, which makes them inaccessible to the majority of paralyzed.
The usability of such softwares often leaves a lot to be desired, in many applications there is no option allowing to choose different fonts, size and thickness of lettering, while all these features are very important especially for those with deteriorated vision. Softwares integrated in complex professional eye trackers are rarely updated.
There are other situations where using complex programs is difficult, if not impossible - for example - heavy lesions where the patient retains the mobility of only one eye, the pupil may be only vertically mobile and he might be unable to blink. In this way, softwares have some limitations making eye tracking systems inaccessible to all patients. There are separate programs for working with video, as well as customizable text matrixes, allowing changing the order and the shape of the symbols – however such software products are often developed by enthusiasts and are not compatible with most existing eye tracking systems. In addition, the developed programs often do not support characters for different languages.
In the current situation, where the software of an eye tracking system does not provide all the necessary functionality and the hardware stays expensive, many paralyzed people have to go without the possibility of communication or use the services of assistants. At the same time, the current level of computer technology allows some low-cost solutions - for example, even average laptops equipped with webcams can with the necessary set of programs fully replace costly eye trackers.
At the same time such programs must possess a number of features that allow the patients with different lesions using them:
- Different character set and language table support. Various encodings integrated into the program make it easy to switch the language of both the program and the text tables, allowing to use the software product without the knowledge of foreign languages.
- The possibility of detailed setting of the image. Change the characters color and the background of the text matrix, the size, the font type and style, the size of the grid allowing the patients with impaired vision to work comfortably with the program, reduce fatigue at work, will make possible support for different screen resolutions and eliminate the need to select the appropriate computer.
- Fine-tuning the response. Not all of the existing programs give the possibility to customize the time required to select a character in the text matrix. Too small delay leads to increased fatigue and numerous mistakes in choosing characters too long – slows down the work.
- The possibility to export and import settings to create your own tables. If a given set of symbols and display settings of a text matrix, can be quickly saved and loaded, or the program has a different set of configuration files, it will make working with it much faster and comfortable.
Taking into account all these features leads to an important conclusion. The ideal software for paralyzed patients to work with text matrixes must be a separate program. Since the existing ready-made solutions integrate applications to work with the camera and text matrix, which greatly reduces their compatibility with other programs. Eye tracking hardware systems have even less compatibility, often not allowing at all using third-party software. At the same time, the program that is flexible and functional with all the necessary set of options that are associated with a specific type of equipment will have a much wider range of applications and convenience for patients.